Barthold Kuijken Recital

For Intro to Music Criticism:

An unaccompanied flute recital is a rarity; make that a Baroque flute and it’s practically unheard of. Yet that is what Barthold Kuijken offered on Sunday, Oct. 13 in Kulas Recital Hall.

            Kuijken hails from a dynasty of early music performers, and performs often with his brothers Sigiswald on violin and Wieland on viola da gamba and cello. But among the brothers, Barthold may have an instrument most different from its modern descendant, being made of an entirely different material: wood rather than the modern flute’s metal. It was thus intriguing to hear the mellow, pleasant timbre of a Baroque flute explored in Barthold’s recital.

            One striking element of Kuijken’s historical flutes (for he played different instruments, attempting to match the instrument a piece was probably played on) is their vast range of colors. Because a flute can only play one line of music, unaccompanied pieces for it often feature multiple implied voices to fill out the harmony, as Kuijken explained. He denoted these voices by coloring each differently, creating an illusion of multiple musicians. For instance, in the two Telemann Fantasias that opened the concert, in D major and d minor, upper lines had a sharper quality, similar to the modern flute, while bass responses were mellower, closer to a recorder. Kuijken further strengthened these contrasts with drastic dynamic changes, repeating a loud passage so quietly as to be nearly inaudible.

            Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Suite in b minor, op. 35, no. 5 grants the performer the option of playing with a bass, e.g. a harpsichord, or unaccompanied. In Kuijken’s performance, the extra instrument was not missed, for Boismortier’s sprightly, interwoven counterpoint was navigated and delineated with ease.

            Each piece received an informative introduction from Kuijken, leavened with humor and anecdotes. In his remarks on J.S. Bach’s “Solo pour flute traversière” in a minor, BWV 1013, he explained our murky knowledge of this sonata: it may not have been written by Bach, and may not even be for flute. Either way, the composition was entirely successful, with the introverted Sarabande becoming beautifully intimate in Kuijken’s hands.

            C.P.E. Bach’s Sonate Wq 132 in a minor offered a change from the other repertoire, with less counterpoint and more elaborate figuration. Despite the virtuosic runs, Kuijken imbued the piece with great emotion, spiking the plangent “Poco Adagio” with violent accents and contrasts.

            Throughout the recital, Kuijken’s striking musicality and phrasing was on display, but nowhere more so than in Silvius Leopold Weiss’s Suite in G Major, originally for lute but transcribed and reworked for flute by Kuijken. Phrases felt both free and organic, as if they were naturally spilling from the flute. Similarly, the rapid scales in the Courante always had direction rather than being simple passagework, and the rounded timbre of the Baroque flute granted them an impossible smoothness.

            Kuijken’s recital was an unexpected and rare treat, a chance to relax in the pleasing strains of a now uncommon instrument as played by a master.

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